Unreal Nature

May 19, 2016

Seeing the Grain

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… The wind that moves across the mountain-scapes and fields … , continually altering the light and the composition, is “blowing” across the “field” of the film image as well.

This is from The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place by Scott MacDonald (2001):

… Like much nineteenth-century landscape painting, nature writing is generally elegiac, a plea — to put it in Leopold’s words — ‘for the preservation of some tag-ends of wilderness’ within the unpreventable, combined forced of the ‘exhaustion of wilderness in the more habitable portions of the globe’ and the ‘world-wide hybridization of cultures through modern transport and industrialization.’

[line break added] By the 1960s, in fact, the hunger for solitude in nature could be (momentarily) assuaged in only three ways: by going to the remotest areas left on the globe (as Barry Lopez does in Arctic Dreams (1968) … ) ; by learning to focus with great intensity on extremely limited spaces, as is done in many Japanese gardens and in the painter Charles Burchfield’s explorations of his backyard, and finally, by learning to see the interplay of development and natural biota with new eyes. This last approach informs the two most remarkable seasonally structured American independent films I’m aware of: Larry Gottheim’s Horizons (1973) [see my earlier post]; and Nathaniel Dorsky’s Hours for Jerome (1982).

… While Dorsky certainly admires the best of the commercial cinema and is in sympathy with many independent critiques of industry ideology, his commitment is to use filmmaking as a spiritual practice that can help us refine our vision in an era he sees as addicted to distraction.

Hours for Jerome is the quintessential ‘psychedelic’ film, not in what has become the pejorative sense of the word (Dorsky does not provide us with hallucinations verging on the psychotic), but in the liberating sense of the term so widespread in the late sixties …

[ … ]

I think when you have the occasion to step away from agendas — whether it’s through circumstance or out of some kind of emotional necessity — then you’re often struck by the incredible epiphanies of nature. These are often very subtle things, right on the edge of most people’s sensibilities. My films try to record and to offer some of these experiences. [Peter Hutton]

Hutton allows a revelation of the motion of the world to speak directly to the viewer’s senses, mind, and spirit. Indeed, this perceptual subtlety and implicit spiritual connection is Hutton’s gift to the sleeping child in the film’s [Landscape for Manon (1986)] closing shot, and to the filmgoer-as-sleeping-child. We are often more oblivious than real children to the visual subtleties of the world.

… while the graininess of Hutton’s shots may contradict the desire to ‘get out of the way’ so obvious in Hutton’s timing and composition, it is most usefully positioned as a synthesis of what at one time seemed conflicting concerns. … The wind that moves across the mountain-scapes and fields in Landscape (for Manon) and above the city in New York Portrait, Part I, continually altering the light and the composition, is “blowing” across the “field” of the film image as well.

[line break added] Indeed, the individual frame of Hutton’s film is a microcosm that, by means of film grain, encodes the macrocosmic developments the shots depict: the particular is the general. Just as his meditative gaze makes no fundamental distinction between rural and urban locales — both are places in which people live, and both are in a continual process of transformation by both societal and natural forces — Hutton makes no fundamental distinction between material realities outside and inside the camera. The function of filmmaking, for Hutton, is to use the camera as a means of revealing outer and inner realities, the material and the spiritual, as the fundamental unity that in fact, they are.

My most recent previous post from MacDonald’s book is here.

-Julie

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